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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

A New Day | March 27, 2022 Dr. Kathryn Benton

See the Flowers

By Rainer Maria Rilke

See the flowers, so faithful to Earth.

We know their fate because we share it.

Were they to grieve for their wilting,

That grief would be ours to feel.

There’s a lightness in things. Only we move forever burdened,

pressing ourselves into everything, obsessed by weight.

The opening words are from Rainer Maria Rilke. He speaks to the flowers blooming everywhere around us…their ability to bloom with abandon, seemingly unburdened by the happenings of the world…the war in Ukraine, in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen…the poverty and suffering being experienced by so many around the world in the wake of climate change and the rise of a philosophy of hate and killing. There are days that I wish to be unburdened like the flowers…with a lightness…living in the moment…enjoying the moment. I get to see this in the eyes of my grandson. Each day is a new opportunity for him to experience this joy, this abandon, this freedom. He is not yet burdened…obsessed by weight. Instead, he experiences this lightness…without thought for the wilting that is certain to come. My granddaughter who is 5 years old, is already aware of the wilting. She tries to prop up the flowers…wishing for them to be frozen in time. She is already aware of the grief that comes with wilting and dying in the plant world, as well as the animal world. To me, she often says, “Ami, you’re so old”. Yet, as a child, she has not yet succumbed to the overwhelming burden of living. She is not yet obsessed by the weight of the world.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by this hope…this faithfulness to the Earth, our home. I also have two dogs that remind me to be “in the moment” and to avoid the trap of the weight of the world that burdens us…and the obsession with this burden. Without these reminders, I too might succumb to the despair of the world…the despair that Wendell Berry spoke of:

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Berry knows what my grandchildren know…that it is the peace of the “wild things”…of nature, which is enduring. It is this reality that matters at the end of the day. This is what gives us a sense of freedom and it is here that we can rest in the grace of the world. We can be certain of this grace when we look out on the world…with soft eyes…in the presence of the still water. There has been a long history of the recognition of this grace…this faithfulness that the flowers and my grandchildren know so well. It is captured so well in this song that reminds me of one of our own at Fellowship Church, Mr. Johnny Land:

This is a triumphant witness to the wonders of the natural world…the seasons…the sun, moon and stars. It includes the all-pervading presence of the holy that companions our days…and is a testament to the power of coming together to acknowledge this presence…to express our gratitude for life!

Last week was my mother’s 92nd birthday on the same day as the Persians celebrate Nowruz…literally “New Day”, the celebration of the New Year and the new life of springtime.

I remember the importance of this holiday when I was a family advocate many years ago. I visited many families from Afghanistan…victims from the previous wars and unrest in that country that moved to the United States. Coming to their homes on the Nowruz holiday was very meaningful. It was a time of great joy and renewal…of new life in the home, as well as in the heart. Great care was taken not only in preparing the home, the meal, the music and ritual, but also in preparing the heart for this wonderful event. It is a time of letting go of past sadness and trauma and starting a new life!

And it is so easy to lose sight of the possibility of new life…new birth in the world. For many of my clients, there is no such opportunity to celebrate life…rebirth…springtime. For those experiencing the war in the Ukraine and elsewhere, there is also no relief. Could it be that our own celebrations…our own sense of renewal and rebirth could spark change in the universe? Are we, as Matthew Fox and others have said, “co-creators” of the universe?

12th century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen thought so. But this is no magical, effortless renewal or rebirth. This is no theoretical or symbolic idea of our participation in creation. The work of creation stems from the amount of nurturance, effort and devotion that we put forth…as Hildegard calls it, “the cultivating of the cosmic tree”. Here is one of her illuminations depicting the year-round attention needed in order to cultivate the cosmic tree. This is something that is not accomplished in one season, or in one year. It is a consistent, loving and attentive faithfulness to Earth and her processes.

Of this mandala, Matthew Fox says, “…we see in this cosmic wheel humans cultivating the earth through the seasons of the year and the seasons of their lives.” Hildegard is pointing out that “human creativity and gentle but industrious cultivating of the earth is what the cosmos longs to see and has longed to birth during twenty billion years of history.” Fox and indeed Hildegard see the human as an essential part of this cultivation both for the sake of the universe, the world and also for our own sakes. It is an interaction with the soil…with the plants and animals…with the wind and rain…with the planets and stars and with our own divine spark. Hildegard says, “All living creatures are, so to speak, sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun.”

Hildegard was sure of the need for humans to be involved in the healing, co-creation and work of justice in the world, not only for the sake of humans, but for the sake of all creation. She believed that it is part of our sacred responsibility to use our “spark” to do the work of restoration in the world.

We need only look at the flower…at the child…at the dog in order to learn of the faithfulness of the natural world. We do not need to grieve the wilting of the flower, but rather work with that flower to increase our awareness of that lightness…that trust in our creator…that mysterious presence from which we have come. Upon this trust we can begin the work of justice-making, restoration, healing and love.

This is no easy journey. It may be much easier to defer to “someone else”. Maybe we are too busy…too tired to tend to the cultivation of this tree. But we are the ones to do this work…we are the ones to roll up our sleeves and do the work. May we gather the strength and commitment necessary.

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